Review: Unsound Adelaide kicks off strong with gorgeous displays in the Botanic Gardens Conservatory

The first event for Unsound 2017 Adelaide takes place in the delightful Botanic Gardens Bicentennial Conservatory. Surprisingly, it is the first amplified sound event that has ever taken place in the beautiful venue, which looks like a discus fell from the skies to be buried almost completely. Effectively it is two sound shells bolted together, so perfect for listening to music – especially with the smell of the dirt and plants and the warm tropical air.

It is in this very living environment that Unsound showcase three artists and open their program for the weekend. Chris Watson, of Cabaret Voltaire, experimental music act of the early 1980s, famous for “Nag Nag Nag” and other upstart cult hits, has had a second life with a career in sound and field recording. He brought a craftsman’s care to the recording of the wild, including BAFTA award winning work with David Attenborough. His piece is perhaps the gentlest, most delicate shown tonight with beautiful natural sounds of wind and birdlife, or perhaps the birds are inside?

It’s the longest of the works and tracks the onset of winter from the coast of Estonia up towards the Arctic Circle. It’s quite different to the shorter Dominic Ferchow piece following, under his moniker “Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement.” Entirely synthetically made, darker and spookier, it leeches into the ears, with a serpentine quality.

While children ran about playing hide and seek, adults stroll through with glass in hand, taking in the sounds; most of the speakers, set up by sound technician Byron Scullin well-hidden by foliage. This is a lovely way to experience sound and to see the heritage listed space in a new light. Now that the festival is separated from the Adelaide Festival, it is stretching out to more venues and times across the weekend.

Mat Schulz and Gosia Plysa have helmed Unsound from its Polish HQ for 15 years, and join with David Sefton again to curate Adelaide’s fifth instalment. A previous year, Leyland Kirby was to appear with his Caretaker guise and as V/Vm, but couldn’t make it, so it’s good to have his sounds here in 2017. Kirby is an astute archivist and prods the nostalgia glands with both actual and imagined recordings, using visuals often to emphasise the other worldliness of memory. His piece “How Deep Is Your Love”, the name no doubt conjuring FM radio nausea for some of us, is actually an underwater sound world of his own making. Echoing and slightly claustrophobic, the piece tonight sets us in a tank, on the inside rather than looking in, another piece of Caretaker magic.

Head down to the Botanic Gardens and see this free program on repeat at your leisure from now until Sunday. Meanwhile, Thebarton Theatre tomorrow at 6pm kicks off the live Unsound performances. It’s going to be a long and indulgent weekend of awesome in Adelaide.

For more information about Unsound Adelaide 2017, head to www.unsoundadelaide.com.